The Department of Homeland Security is readying a plan to expand a program that pays U.S. employers to hire foreign STEM students taught in America, a move that could end up punishing American college grads and even the elderly, according to an immigration think tank.

In pushing to allow more foreign students into the so-called "optional practical training program," DHS said that it will help businesses and colleges by keeping those foreign students in the U.S. following their American-taught science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, curriculum.

But the Center for Immigration Studies said it will punish American STEM students competing for those same jobs. And, they added, in adjusting how the foreign students are categorized as employees, they get out of paying payroll taxes used to help fund programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Currently, the program urges companies to hire STEM students for a year. CIS said firms are paid up to $10,000 to participate. The new proposal, said CIS, is to add on another year and $2,000 in bonuses.


David North, a CIS fellow, said that the proposed changes should be headlined: "DHS Proposes Bonuses for Employers Who Hire Aliens Rather than Citizens."

He explained:

DHS, by defining a recent college grad as a student, takes both the worker and the employer out from under payroll taxes — thus penalizing the Social Security and Medicare trust funds directly, and our elders indirectly. Congress did not make this decision, at least not directly; but since foreign students and their employers have privileges denied to citizens and green card holders alike, the bonus has been created.

In the current document, DHS proposes to extend the additional 17 months for STEM workers to 24 months; thus from a total period of 29 months to 36 months, about a 20 percent increase. If the bonus given to employers for hiring a STEM graduate is worth $10,000 under the old rules, it is now worth $12,000, and is that much more likely to cause an employer to hire a former F-1 student than a green card or citizen graduate.

Sarah R. Saldana, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, argued in a release that expanding the program is good for American schools and businesses.

"Our nation will benefit from keeping international students here, educated in U.S. colleges and universities here while they receive additional training, rather than sending them out of the country. At the same time, U.S. employers will benefit from the increased ability to rely on the skills acquired by U.S. educated-STEM students, as well as their knowledge of markets in their home countries."

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.